Part of a quick “reflection” written for my aikido class.
Huzzah! My aikido class has a list of recommended readings. The first of those books, which I requested at the library, has come in and is now successfully in my hot little hands. I’m the proud new borrower of Richard Strozzi Heckler’s “Aikido and the New Warrior”! ;)
I had an interesting revelation on the way to pick the book up. Driving down the road, I realized there was an ambulance behind me but several blocks back. I didn’t immediately pull over, since it was a 4-lane road and there was other traffic, as well as an exit coming up soon that would have been tricky (although not impossible) to maneuver around. Instead I stopped in the middle lane, leaving the other lanes clear, at the next stoplight. Sure enough, the ambulance came up and drove past easily, and headed on down the road out of sight. I felt a small pang of guilt at not pulling over immediately the instant I’d heard the first faint sounds of the siren, but consoled myself that the ambulance hadn’t been slowed at all by my doing so — and thought no more of it.
Later, as I approached the library, I saw parked in their parking lot the ambulance, a fire truck, a police car (blocking traffic in the lot, amusingly enough), and another police car pulling in as I was parking. I was curious but not unduly worried that my rusty first aid skills would be needed, as the various emergency vehicles suggested strongly there’d be a whole passel of trained folks to assist whomever needed it. While I was in high school, my parents apparently believed I wasn’t getting enough exercise — I guess they didn’t think our riding and training our horses every day was enough — so they made sure I received all the first aid, CPR, and lifeguard training available. Since I’ve not refreshed the training since then, it’s certainly been a while, and I know with the onset of AIDS that at least CPR procedures changed quite a bit.
So, back to the library: I went in and returned some of the other books I’ve checked out for classes, and while doing so noticed a few EMT members heading upstairs in no particular hurry. Good — that meant whatever it was wasn’t a screaming emergency. I then checked out the aikido book I had on hold, and decided I’d amble upstairs and take a peek out of sheer nosiness. Since the very first thing we were taught in all my first aid/CPR/whatever classes was to move along and not get in the way if you can’t assist, I confess I knew quite well I was just rubber-necking. Still, the library was large enough that I figured I could peek discreetly and not annoy or cause trouble, so I headed for the stairs. As I went, I flipped over the book I’d just checked out — and on the back I read the following:
In the spring of 1925, if I remember correctly, when I was taking a walk in the garden by myself, I felt that the universe suddenly quaked, and that a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one. … At the same time my mind and body became light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the Creator of this universe. … At that moment I was enlightened: the source of budo is God’s love — the spirit of loving protection for all beings. Endless tears of joy streamed down my cheeks.
— Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido
Master Ueshiba developed a martial form that empowered human beings from the inside out, without categories and contests to determine who is best. … Through the techniques developed in Aikido he brought to the world an alternative to our current form of heavy-handed militarism and turn-the-other-cheek pacifism. But ultimately the Aikido of Master Ueshiba is a spiritual path that teaches people to join their ki (or spirit energy) to the ki of the universe. Encouraging this practice of unifying our personal ki to a universal ki he envisioned the possibility of everyone participating in a world of harmony, right action, and compassion…
— Richard Heckler, from the Introduction
I stood there at the foot of the stairs and felt suddenly… inadequate. Not in a bad sense, but rather in the sense that I wasn’t doing as much as I could — I was capable of so much more! True, I’ve started working out more, and I’m taking aikido, in an attempt to achieve a better mind-body balance. Also true that I donate blood as often as I’m allowed, and I’m proud to have encouraged many of my friends to accompany me. But what if it were me who was faced with whatever emergency was upstairs? What if I’d been first on the scene? My first aid was out of date, and so was my CPR. I decided then and there I need to update my training as soon as I can find a good free class in which to do so. Hopefully the City of San Jose will have classes available.
However, on a more selfish level… I was seized with a sudden longing to also find that “knowing-ness” O’Sensei wrote about. All around me, all my life, people have talked about knowing their life purpose, of struggling to achieve it with single-minded determination. I’ve never felt that. Oh, there are lots and lots of things I enjoy doing, that I’ve learned with gleeful determination, that I’ve taken great pleasure in… but something as momentous as an entire life’s purpose? What does that feel like? How do you know you’ve found it? Every time I’ve shyly or embarrassedly asked how someone has that unshakable knowing I’ve always been cheerfully (and, I believe, sincerely) told: “Oh, you just know!”
I don’t. I wish I did… but I still don’t.
But anyway, to return to the library: I went upstairs, noticed one librarian waiting by the elevator and one keeping folks back from where approximately ten or so emergency personnel worked calmly around someone lying on a gurney. Oddly, all the EMTs were male. The patient was wrapped in light blue plastic to protect them from the rain, and had some gear on around the head — I’d guess some kind of breathing apparatus. When I curiously checked with the closest librarian, she told me willingly enough that it was apparently some poor old man who people had thought was just taking a nap back there, but who apparently had some sort of attack or something — but the EMTs all seemed to think he’d be fine. We chatted for a bit, I thanked her for her time, and then I headed off.
As I walked away, I was reminded of one of my classes a few weeks ago (“Uncommon Kinship,” in fact — nerve-wrackingly fascinating), when the subject of rape came up. During the discussion the professor mentioned there were three types of people or reactions to rape, and I wrote her words down. First there were the Warriors, who wanted to fight back however was necessary to stop rape — the professor herself was clearly in that category. Then there were the Gatekeepers, and then there were the Forgivers, or those who wished to stop rape and aid the victims with love and kindness — there were several of those in the classroom as well, in fact.
The professor didn’t explain what a Gatekeeper was — someone asked another question, and the subject changed — but I was seized with a sudden, intense curiosity as to what precisely she meant in regards to that category. I wanted to know because after some consideration, I don’t think I’m either in the Warrior or the Forgiver category: I don’t feel a fierce, killing rage against rapists, since I’m unconvinced harming or killing them would work in the long run — but I sure as hell don’t want to just forgive them either. Further, it’s been my personal experience that every time someone says there are only binary answers to a complex question, they’re missing something. From what I’ve seen, there’s usually a middle ground which works better than either extreme, and that’s why I was so curious as to what a Gatekeeper was. So I asked about it again in another class. From the way the professor answered, she didn’t really respect any of the alternatives except for the Warrior; she admitted as much quite freely, of course. She was nice enough to explain what she thought a Gatekeeper was anyway, though: someone who tends the metaphorical societal “gates,” who helps keep the status quo. I thanked her for the answer, then simply let the concepts roll around in the back of my head for a while.